It’s hard to believe that action director Michael Bay doesn’t hold the title for largest explosion onscreen.
“James Bond tried to take the ‘largest explosion in the world,'” Bay said. “Bullshit. Ours is.”
Bay explained there’s a “special sauce” for filming explosions. “It’s like a recipe. I see some directors do it, and they look cheesy, or it won’t have a shockwave,” Bay said. “There are certain ways with explosions where you’re mixing different things, and different types of explosions to make it look more realistic.”
In short, “it’s like making a Caesar salad,” according to Bay.
And “Pearl Harbor” had all the perfect ingredients: “[Co-producer] Jerry Bruckheimer showed Ridley Scott the movie, and the quote [from Scott] was, ‘Fuck me,'” Bay recalled. “No one knows how hard that is. We had so much big stuff out there. Real boats, 20 real planes. We had 350 events going off. Three months of rigging on seven boats, stopping a freeway that’s three miles away.”
Bay’s 2001 film “Pearl Harbor” includes a 40-minute scene in which the Japanese bomb combusts. The film stars Ben Affleck, Josh Hartnett, Kate Beckinsale, Cuba Gooding Jr., Jon Voight, and Alec Baldwin.
Bay previously told Whalebone Magazine that the amount of dynamite used was life-threatening.
“There was dynamite everywhere. Stuff was rigged on so many ships,” Bay said. “We also had 17 planes in the air and you’re dealing with big puffy Hawaiian clouds. So you have to deal with sun, you got to wait for the right time where you’re going to get enough sun because the puffy clouds are moving through…There’s something on the water where if a boat crosses a red line, meaning that you could kill guys in the boats because it’s very dangerous because there’s KinePak — which is dynamite in the water — everywhere. It can blow the boat up, kill the guys.”
Bay added, “It was 12 cameras. We had aerials above. We had helicopters. I think it’s probably about 30 seconds of film, but it’s full-on gigantic explosions. The plume went hundreds and hundreds of feet in the air. There was a spark that went off to a small little side island and set a forest fire, and we had to go in to put out. But it was a massive undertaking, this explosion.”
“Pearl Harbor” made nearly $450 million worldwide, and made history as the first Razzie-nominated Worst Picture film to win an Academy award (“Pearl Harbor” took home Best Sound Editing at the Oscars).
Bay still does not use green screen in his films, over 20 years after “Pearl Harbor.”
“The young ones coming up, they’re not doing it real or they don’t know how to do it real. It’s a lost art and it’s a dying art — doing real, big stunts and they’re just going with digital effects nowadays. And I think that hurts a lot of things,” Bay said. “I think it takes a lot of the soul out of it, that’s what it is. It takes the soul out of it. It kind of becomes a little bit too computerized.”
And, as Bay explained, audiences know the difference. “They understand when it looks screwed up. They can’t articulate it but they know, oh that looks fake,” Bay concluded. “It looks fake because you know what everything looks like when you’re walking around and you see how light hits things and sets kind of just make it, it becomes more plastic and just doesn’t have that soul to it.”